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A tale of two cities

I travelled to two different cities in two different states last week—Indore and Guwahati. I came back with images identified by common distinctions: piles of garbage and glitzy new shopping malls. Is this our vision of urban development? There is no question that cities are imploding; growth is happening faster than we ever imagined. Construction is booming and expansion is gobbling agricultural land.

Public private prank

Growth is back on the agenda, says the government. It is hoping that with pushy announcements foreign and Indian investment will miraculously start pouring in and infrastructure will be the name of the game once again. But this assumption ignores one crucial detail: currently, public-private partnerships (PPPs) in infrastructure are on the cusp of disaster. The country needs a different strategy to build public services infrastructure.

Temporary solution, permanent jam

I write this stuck in traffic. Nothing unusual. But my location makes me realise, once again, how our highway route to progress is going nowhere. The road I am using is newly commissioned and expensive. It is the 28-km Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway, which was built just a few years ago to take care of the explosion of traffic between the two cities. It is access-controlled, with a 32-lane toll plaza, and was to provide easy access and a fun ride. The concessionaire—built as it is under the famous public private partnership model—took all steps to keep it prized for cars.

Going off-grid to power solution

Supply issues comprise one part of the energy conundrum, as we discussed last fortnight. The cost of energy and our ability to pay for it is the other. The matter gets vexed because the rise in price of raw material of all energy sources is accompanied by huge inefficiency in distribution and accounting. But importantly, we remain a poor country where cost of energy is a factor in its availability and accessibility for all.

Powerless and lost

The power blackout in northern India on two days should not be dismissed or misjudged. Analysts are jumping to conclude that the crisis was foretold. They blame delays caused by environment and forest clearance procedures and demand winding down the regulatory framework so that we can re-energise ourselves. Their other favourite whipping horse is ‘free’ electricity to farmers, which is said to be crippling the state electricity boards. These explanations are naïve and mistaken.

When battered people took on the pesticide industry

Today, I want to tell you a true story of extraordinary courage. The past week, I was in Kasaragod, a district in Kerala, splendid in beauty and with abundant natural resources, but destroyed by the toxic chemical, endosulfan. The pesticide was aerially sprayed over cashew plantations, for some 20 years, in complete disregard of the fact that there is no demarcation between plantations and human habitation in this area. It is also a high rainfall region and so, the sprayed pesticide leached into the ground and flowed downstream.

BRT - Missed the bus for cars

-- Anumita Roychowdhury, Right To Clean Air Campaign

Weather dice is loaded

During my weekly conversation with my sister I told her about the unusual searing heat this June, the problems of power cuts and how we are coping in India. She, in turn, told me that in Washington DC, where she lives, there was a terrible storm that damaged her roof and uprooted trees in her garden. They were fortunate that they still had electricity, because most houses in the city were in the dark. She also said it was unbearably hot because the region was in the grip of an unprecedented heat wave.

Rio: not plus or minus, just 20

The Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development is over. The conference declaration, titled “The Future We Want”, is a weak and meaningless document. It aims at the lowest common denominator consensus to say it all, but to say nothing consequential about how the world will move ahead to deal with the interlinked crises of economy and ecology. Is this the future we want or the future we dread?

Beyond Rio+20

It was June of 1992. The location was Rio de Janeiro. The occasion was the world conference on environment and development. A large number of people had come out on the streets. They were protesting the arrival of George Bush senior, the then president of the US. Just before coming to the conference, Bush had visited a local shopping centre, urging people to buy more so that the increased consumption could rescue his country from financial crisis. Protesters were angered by his statement that “the American lifestyle is not negotiable”.

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